Case Challenges California Mountain Lion Import Ban

Aug 14, 2014
Editor's Note: Today's feature first appeared in our companion service The Archery Wire(>
Back in 1990, California voters made history by approving Proposition 117, which declared mountain lions a "specially protected" species and effectively paved the way for dozens of future attempts in states across the country to manage wildlife through use of the ballot initiative process.

Some ensuing attempts were successful and some were not. Most were initiated by national anti-hunting and animal rights organizations intent on banning certain types and methods of hunting through the use of misleading, emotion-driven media campaigns based on contrived facts and graphic images placed on television commercials.

But, as the first successful attempt to use the voter initiative process to ban a specific type of hunting and give special protection to a species, the approval of California's Proposition 117 by a razor-thin 52 to 48 percent margin is generally considered to be the start of a continuing onslaught of petition-driven attempts to ban types of black bear hunting, end trapping on public lands in several western states, outlaw the use of hounds for pursuit hunting and more.

Despite a continuing increase in mountain lion and human encounters in California since the passage of Prop. 117 - including fatalities - attempts to reverse the ban legislatively have been unsuccessful. And perhaps the most hypocritical aspect of the mountain lion hunting ban is that lions continue to be managed (i.e. killed) by wildlife officers and public safety personnel in numbers equal to or greater than some neighboring states where hunting them is legal - it's just not being done by legal, licensed hunters.

Last week, Safari Club International (SCI) filed an interesting lawsuit in federal court that has the potential to chip away portions of the prohibitions put in place by Prop. 117 and could perhaps clear the way for future challenges.

Filed Aug. 6, the lawsuit specifically disputes the portion a California law that bans the importation, transportation and possession of mountain lions legally hunted and taken outside California. The suit contends the ban discourages hunters in California from hunting mountain lions in other states or countries where it is perfectly legal for them to do so.

SCI's main claims in the case are that the import/possession ban violates the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause and Equal Protection Clause.

"For too long California has interfered with the hunting of mountain lions in other states by residents of California," said SCI President Craig Kauffman. "Back in 1990, ill-informed California voters decided it was a good idea to take the management of this predator species out of the hands of the wildlife professionals. Not only did they ban mountain lion hunting within the state, but they went further and tried to impose on other states their misguided views on mountain lion hunting. The result was a harmful and illegal ban on the importation of mountain lions hunted outside of California."

Nelson Freeman, SCI's Deputy Director of Government Affairs, told The Archery Wire this week that his office has already received more than 120 responses from members in California who have either already hunted mountain lions in another state and want to import their trophies, have plans to hunt in another state, or would hunt lions elsewhere if they could import the trophies.

"The Import Ban adversely and significantly harms interstate commerce and serves no legitimate state or local interest," the complaint states. "It discriminates against those persons who want to hunt mountain lions outside of California and import, transfer, and possess any such mountain lions in California. In contrast, those who hunt other species outside California, including some protected species, are permitted to import, transfer, and possess them in California."

Further, the suit contends mountain lions are not listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act or by the state of California.

"Although California designates the mountain lion as a 'specially protected mammal,' on information and belief, the mountain lion is not protected as an endangered or threatened species (or comparable status) under any state law."

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California (Sacramento) and seeks declaratory judgment, costs, and enforcement of the ban enjoined.

As it proceeds, the case should prove well worth watching. As we often say here at The Outdoor Wire Digital Network, we'll keep you posted.

- J.R. Absher


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